Apart from sounding like the heavily abbreviated notes of someone who specialises in sewage material sciences, sludge metal earns the notable accolade of being probably the heaviest genre of music that I plan to cover in these lessons.
This is a well-earned spot. Classified as an “extreme” genre of music, the sludgy stuff comes mostly from New Orleans in the US, and is characterised by slow tempos, mostly shouted or screamed vocals, and very distorted and downtuned guitars. And, when we’re talking about “downtuned”, we’re putting serious emphasis on the “down” bit.
Take Horn of the Rhino’s ‘Speaking in Tongues‘ as an example. In this tune, HOTR are playing so far down that your standard six-string guitar is literally unable to handle it. The crew have to use a seven-string for their low, low tuning. A slightly heavier and more unsettling example can be found in ‘Bell of Urgency‘ by The Secret.
as you can probably tell, sludge metal is not a newcomer-friendly genre
Such low-note droning is supported in most bands of the genre with similarly menacing vocals. Taking a leaf from the book of doom metal, the usual themes at hand are the coming of the apocalypse, death and dying, and anti-religious or satanic sentiments. The exact shape these vocals can take varies, but it’s always abrasive and rough.
The “shallow end” of the pool consists of players such as Eyehategod – try out ‘Take as Needed for Pain‘ – with more shouted vocals that some might even find comfortingly close to the territory of heavy punk. If you’re ready to dive in headfirst, however, you can find the pool’s deepest and darkest ends in such droning vocals as those found in Electric Wizard’s ‘Funeralopolis‘.
I won’t fib: as you can probably tell, sludge metal is not a newcomer-friendly genre. Between the endless screaming and shouting, the often-total abandonment of any normal verse-chorus song structure, the harsh and frequently offensive lyrical themes and (of course) the sheer weight of the stuff, even the most seasoned musical explorers may find they’re just better off taking one look and passing the genre over (unless they’re already into heavier types of metal).
Nothing wrong with that, but at least take the aforementioned one look: sludge is clever stuff, and if nothing else, it has the curious effect of making any song you listen to afterwards sound as twee as the Dora the Explorer theme.